Part political critique, part travelogue, Sicily, a captive land will evoke compassion for ordinary Sicilians and outrage at the havoc long wreaked in their lives. Journalist and author Mary Rose Liverani had expected to do no more than write a few travel articles on the region when visiting it a year after her husband's death, he a Florentine having long extolled his affection for the people of Sicily and his delight in their land. For more than a year she explored Sicily, puzzling over the contrast between a region, once the most envied outpost of Greater Greece but now a wretched subsistence economy limited to agriculture and construction, one of the poorest regions of Italy with a permanent unemployment rate of 25 per cent, rising to 35 per cent of young people, unthinkable in the developed world outside crisis situations. How did this calamitous situation arise and who are the powers that preside over the region's troubles? Most outsiders would immediately blame the mafia.
That organisation's pernicious and pathological activities are not exaggerated but theirs is the role of enforcer for the Church of Rome whose longstanding rivalry with the state and its disregard for the formal machinery of government has reduced Sicily, as one writer has put it, to a 'Vatican holding'. Church, mafia and the gentry, comprise an alliance of rentier capitalists whose primary goal is to block any change in the status quo, its success manifest in the plainly visible abuse of those fundamental human rights deemed essential in other regions of the European Union. But Liverani's book is more than a polemic. Her sense of adventure and frequent lively encounters with the locals are both entertaining and instructive: from a poet priest lamenting the author's want of 'reverence' and a beautician dispensing political wisdom, to a restaurant owner who goes trekking the streets to catch passing tourists, the characters met on her travels demonstrate the various means Sicilians have developed to retain their dignity and humanity in the cruellest circumstances.